Apple and a #gate

I have been actively following tech press since 2012. Noticeably every time there was a new announcement from Apple, some video or a blog would pop-up that purportedly unearthed shortcomings of that product. Latest has been about the issue of iPhone 6+ bending after applying concentrated pressure. I think this is one of the stupidest controversy, largely popularised by sites such as MacRumors, CNET, the great Boy Genius Report, YouTube, etc. News aggregator Apple Spotlight did a great job of putting together a brief history and called it iPhonegate, specifically talking about iPhone issues. But I totally fail to understand why CNET or BGR could not make a featured story out of the following articles and keep that on for a week at the top of the webpage!

Of course I would not bother to question their journalism but clearly I can see it is so easy to attract more viewers with a negative propaganda. It was not long ago that CNET found itself in a bit of a mess, and later on renowned Apple follower Daniel Eran Dilger put together an extensive story about how Apple gets bad press so often. Why would not CNET or BGR publish a featured story on Surface Pro 3 issues, the MacBook Air killer (in its previous role it was an iPad killer)?

In 2013, Apple came up with a unique polycarbonate material for iPhone 5c and a few people called that a cheap plastic. Later on, Apple was bold enough to come up with a public document for environment report of iPhone 5c. Every year Apple sells 100s of millions of iPhones, iPads and Macs. Apparently others do so as well! How about a report on environment footprint white paper like this from Samsung, LG, HTC, BlackBerry, Sony, Lenovo, Xiaomi, Microsoft and Huawei? As much as I would like all Apple products to be durable, I would also like them to recyclable and cause lesser harm to environment. Apple bothers to spend time and resources for device recyclability as we know e-waste is a huge issue.

In 2014, consumers want a thinner and lighter smartphone which is also a bit larger. Should Apple have come up with a 12mm thick smartphone, which weighs 250grams? How many of the tech press guys would want to use that? Or for that matter, which company wants to produce a brick like smartphone? Apple is a market leader in polished, high value products and those products are expected to be used in a certain way. Why would someone want to use a 6.22″ smartphone just the exact same way he/she used Sony Ericsson W700i? This year’s iPhones are bigger than ever before, and they are expected to be used differently than, say an iPhone 4s. Apple does carryout robust testing for their products and they were bold enough to show those secretive test labs. I would like to know how many of the Android OEMs can afford custom built test labs for each of their devices.

"At 275,000 employees, Samsung (just Samsung Electronics) is the size of five Googles! This explains Samsung's machine-gun-style device output; the company has released around 46 smartphones and 27 tablets just in 2014" via Arstechnica

Samsung for its part at least has a muscle power to take a jibe at Apple. But HTC and BlackBerry? They should get their Balance Sheet and Profit & Loss account in right order so that stakeholders (share holders, consumers and employees) get rewarded well enough; and then try to teach people how bad are Apple products. I feel sorry for the whole saga but these two statements sum up the story:

People really love to hate Apple. It should be considered a disorder at this point. ~ J. Gobert (@MrGobert)
About one-fifth of the people are against everything all the time. ~ Robert F. Kennedy

iPhone 6 Plus vs. BMW Car – Durability Test

iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus

Ever since the leaks and rumours started coming in from various sources for this year’s iPhone, it was clear that Apple will not hold on to 4″ display devices. Last year Apple trashed the tradition of announcing only one device per year, in the form of iPhone 5s and 5c (albeit internals were same as previous year’s iPhone 5). Lots of questions asked were over the last 12 months about the saturation of top-end smartphone market. This year Apple did something new – in line with rumours and leaks – two new sizes of iPhone with identical internals. The two models are only differentiated by pixel density, battery life and optical image stabilisation in camera. Instead going downhill with pricing Apple launched larger version with a highest ever starting price for an iPhone, appropriately called it iPhone 6 Plus. There was an Average Selling Price obsessed decision too. 16GB version lived on and for every $100 increment, 64GB and 128GB variants were available. No one hates top two variants but 16GB is too suffocating for 2014-15 usage.

Let us face it, world has evolved in seven years since the first iPhone introduction. Lots of smartphone manufacturers have come in at various price points and configurations in the market. Even though Apple launched devices at two sizes in first six years – people have gotten use to larger sizes and they learnt how to operate. Last year, in iOS design overhaul Jony Ive said, people have gotten used to touch glass and interact, hence skeuomorphism was no longer needed. Similarly, larger screens offer new possibilities in user experience and hence Apple has decided to barge in at the right time. Should we call Apple playing catch-up with device screen size? Say yes and no depending on your emotions. I would thank all those large size Android/Windows phones for helping Apple to decide the design – and as customer I am even more happy to better iPhone.

Even though we are still awaiting AnandTech review for hardware specific understanding, the new iPhones appear to be the best smartphones in the market today. People who know about Apple products usually have an opinion that, Apple does not care for specs but it only cares for user experience. But I feel they do care for both and call it a product that is greater than sum of its parts. iPhone 5s running iOS8 is still better than many other smartphones in the market, including Samsung Galaxy S5. How are they achieving this? They take time to craft the product. How many iPhones in the works right now? There could be 100s but how many final models are going to pushed to the market in a year? Earlier it was only one, and now two. If we look at this year’s iPhone models, we realise that it is only one new product packaged in different screen sizes. Tim Cook said a few times a in last couple of years that, Apple wanted to do the best product that can deliver highest user experience satisfaction and display size or price was not the starting point. iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus deliver distinctive user experience for the different sizes they come in. iPhone 6 Plus is a 1920*1080 device packing 401 ppi density, while the higher contrast ratio (1400:1) on iPhone 6 makes up for lower 326 ppi density. What more? iPhone 6 Plus has optical image stabilisation which looks nearly impossible on a 4.7″ model which happens to be 6.9 millimetre thin.

Regarding protruding camera lens:
Apple had three choices.

  1. Use a camera with worse optics that would not do the job
  2. Make the entire device thicker in accordance with the camera lens
  3. Allow the camera lens to protrude from the back of the camera

and they made the last one, cannot complain until we see engineering advancement to make thinner 5 lens element camera. Surely nothing to complain as long as the device works as well as this. iPhone camera is no longer the hobbyists’ camera, it has become a pro tool!

Apple Pay and NFC
Apple tries to solve the problem, and hence they innovate. But we need to remind ourselves with a few definitions here.

  • Novelty: Something new
  • Creation: Something new and valuable
  • Invention: Something new, having potential value through utility
  • Innovation: Something new and uniquely useful

NFC has been around for a decade solving no one’s problems. Apple introduced NFC Chip in iPhone 6 and for now will only work for Pay. It is not a brand new technology but Apple made the best use of it, just as they did with Bluetooth LE based iBeacons last year. Any successful business is about partnerships and that helps technology to reach the right end-user. Pay is expected to start in the United States by October 2014 with Apple website reading, “Apple Pay lets you use iPhone 6 to pay at over 220,000 locations accepting contactless payments and within participating apps. And there are even more stores and apps to come.” Pay helps to avoid credit card fraud, makes the device even more personal and valuable, and guess what – banks are busy marketing for Apple! Last year, after iPhone 5s release, tech press said, Touch ID is gimmicky and 64Bit Hardware and iOS were useless with 1GB RAM on board. This year, by the time Pay was getting introduced, Touch ID and 64Bit technology on iPhones were second generation and people loved the new secured way of unlocking the iPhone. 64Bit OS and Hardware sync well, Apple is 12 months into the whole new way encryption and decryption technology! Again, making hardware and software work well is not an easy job, any doubts ask Microsoft. Apple Pay easily qualifies for an innovation.

OpenGL has been a standard for a long time in computer graphics, but Apple decided to design its own language for that though Metal. For starters, Apps developed by using Metal are getting a banner in iOS8, and along with Swift, Apple scores one more point in vertical integration! Motion coprocessor was introduced last year and this year chip is even better with its capability to measure distance and elevation. Of course, new generation sensors are likely to make user experience even better. A few of the lesser spoken-out but very important ones get the nod in this year’s iPhones – FaceTime video call technology enhancements, Voice over LTE, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi‑Fi, etc.

Before iPhone introduction in 2007, Apple was an underdog and they took time out for ‘I am a Mac vs I am a PC’. These days, they do not get into negative marketing simply because they know it takes hard work to reach leadership level in consumer technology business, and it takes even harder to retain that position. I am wrote this during the first weekend sales, and hence no data for the launch weekend, while people seem to be really happy to get their hands on the new iPhones. Let us wait till the high-end smartphone market saturates!

PDF is not e-book

Often I find it difficult to explain why reading should be done through e-books and PDFs are not supposed to be considered as books. However, when I tried to explain, people showed no patience to understand. There is an old saying, ‘while in conversation, most people are way too keen to hear the other person only to react and not to comprehend”. Therefore I will try to explain why PDF is  not a recommended choice for avid reading. Before I start, here is the declaration: I still like physical, hard copy books and hence in digital world I need those functionalities and any additions for better.

What is PDF (Portable Document Format)? A simple Google search gives this answer “a file format for capturing and sending electronic documents in exactly the intended format”. One more definition, from derived straight from Wikipedia, “Portable Document Format is a file format used to present documents in a manner independent of application software, hardware, and operating systems. Each PDF file encapsulates a complete description of a fixed-layout flat document, including the text, fonts, graphics, and other information needed to display it.”  Both definitions give similar functionality assessment – the format is expected to behave constantly irrespective of hardware and software. So the very objective of PDF is to retain its original format, and make sure only that is retained as far as possible, independent of devices. We have numerous screen sizes and various applications that can support PDF view. All the time it shows up the same way, except for zoom in and out, while accommodating a bit of annotation. Is that sufficient for reading? Probably yes for a few but never for me!

Let us look at couple of prominent e-book formats that are freely available on the market. One is Amzon’s Kindle which supports proprietary .mobi format, while other readers, including Apple’s iBooks application, support .epub format. Because hardcopy books preceded digital books in terms of human invention – we tend to compare everything with what we previously experienced. So we need to make short notes, highlight, underline, bookmark and so on. If we want to migrate away from hardcopy to soft copy, we should be able to retain such features and should be able add a few more. Therefore, any software (or combination of applications) that lacks such functionalities should not be called ‘book’ (rather e-book). I consider the software that can support .mobi and .epub formats – Kindle and iBooks (there are other apps which can support e-books too). File organisation has not been a problem either on PDFs or e-books. However once we open an e-book, we can browse through index pages and based on selection of the topic. The reader can reach to desired page, and topic in a single click using index page. This very function is not possible in most PDFs. Even if the index pages have links to topic title page, coming back is not one click. And this navigation becomes painful in touch devices, because of unavailability of mouse cursor/pointer based navigation.

We would like to make short notes while we read, and it often happens on hardbound books. Same can be done on PDFs through annotation capabilities of various apps. However, e-books can show all the notes in one place, and a single tap/click can take the user right on to the page where notes were written. Highlights, bookmarks and underlines are quite obvious options available on e-books and they also can show up in a summary! These are the functionalities from real world, while e-books made the navigation really convenient. iBooks can change the page orientation to two pagers, single page and even the continuous run down or scrolling view. Imagine you would like to read while lying on the bed and your spouse wants to sleep and hence switch off the light. It is the best experience to read with night mode on – and I really want to know how many apps can switch amongst multiple PDF themes (of course night mode is available in Adobe Reader). Then comes change of fonts both family and size – which is at least not a designated property of PDFs. Paragraph styles, margins and line-spacing can also be adjusted for e-books but I need to know how many apps can do these functions on PDFs. Moreover, Kindle and iBooks can offer adding dictionaries, sharing right from the app, showing remaining number of pages in the chapter, going back to previous location in the book over and over, etc. Most important of all – the skeumorphic feel of page navigation, I need to see how many apps can do that on PDFs.

Is there anything that PDF handling apps do that can not be done on e-books? That could be about saving those annotations or highlight related edits and send to someone else. This also can be done on .epub or .mobi but requires a bit of advanced skills. Next option was – OK, let us convert the PDF to either of the e-book formats. Obviously, file conversions never help and the whole (converted) e-book gets messed up with pages, index all over. You may recall the definition of PDF on second paragraph of this article. If you want to read  digital format – buy original e-book and select the format based on the app available on your device. PDF is not e-book.

Apple Juggernaut, now with IBM

Lots of news from technology world over the past weeks and biggest of them was about Apple and IBMpartnership, exclusively for iOS devices.It is surprising and exciting to think how this could unfold opportunities for Apple and IBM. Let us be honest, Apple has services that could compete with Citrix, then the server business, business purchase programme, and so on. But as a company, Apple has a very minimal presence in enterprise market. Steve Jobs in one of the AllThingsD conferences said, “(In the consumer market) every person votes for themselves”. “If enough of them say yes, we get to come to work in the morning.” In the enterprise, he said, not so much. The people that use the products aren’t the ones that choose which products are used, and the people that make those decisions, Jobs said, “are sometimes confused.” Apple is all about simplicity, elegance, user experience, which are all very vital for consumer market success. The famous WinTel era helped Microsoft the push Apple out of the big enterprise business. However, ever since iPad launch, Apple has dedicated fair bit of resources that can help iOS device deployment in business organisations.

iOS and Android devices have redefined the word productivity. The person who is a data driven decision maker need not deal with large chunk of data anymore. Analytics is taken care by data experts, they put that in cloud and decision are taken using interpretation that can happen on four-inch handheld device. This made PC usage for back end big data analytics and devices like iPad for front-end decision-making. Steve Jobs’ another famous quote about PCis worth mentioinig here, “…PCs are going to be like trucks. They’re still going to be around, they’re still going to have a lot of value, but they’re going to be used by one out of X people.” If I am a fund manager looking to analyse, I need not sit in front of a PC, put 100s of thousands of data into spreadsheet, create my own charts, make complicated pivot tables to arrive at a dashboard. Rather these all can be done over the cloud and an iOS app like IBM Cognos Mobileor Numericscan handle my meetings with external clients as well as my internal analysts. I have written about how Microsoft Excel is no longer the only way out for productivity. Everyone exulted for Microsoft Office suite on iPad but I was not. Every software has been written for solving a problem, Apple had sold 200+ millions of iPads without an option for Microsoft office.

Apple has been emphasising on productivity through iOS devices for a couple years already, and touted 98% usage of iOS devices in Fortune 500 companies. However, big enterprise businesses had already invested in technology and processes already. Apple definitely enjoys fan following in consumer market but enterprise IT wouldn’t bother for one. The deployment of iOS devices calls for change in process of workflow as well as investment of financial and human resources. Most important of all, enterprises need support from other channel partners too, and this is exactly where IBMcan come into picture. They have an established presence in large enterprise business in various segments such as big data analytics and software services. Looking at the IBM Annual Report 2013, couple of things caught my attention:

"Thanks to a proliferation of devices and the infusion of technology into all things and processes, the world is generating more than 2.5 billion gigabytes of data every day, and 80 percent of it is “unstructured”—everything from images, video and audio to social media and a blizzard of impulses from embedded sensors and distributed devices.
This is the driver of IBM’s first strategic imperative: To make markets by transforming industries and professions with data. The market for data and analytics is estimated at $187 billion by 2015. To capture this growth potential, we have built the world’s broadest and deepest capabilities in Big Data and analytics—both technology and expertise. We have invested more than $24 billion; including $17 billion of gross spend on more than 30 acquisitions. We have 15,000 consultants and 400 mathematicians. Two- thirds of IBM Research’s work is now devoted to data, analytics and cognitive computing. IBM has earned 4,000 analytics patents. We have an ecosystem of 6,000 industry partners and 1,000 university partnerships around the world developing new, analytics-related curricula.
An IT industry remade by cloud: At the same time that industries and professions are being remade by data, the information technology infrastructure of the world is being transformed by the emergence of cloud computing—that is, the delivery of IT and business processes as digital services. It is estimated that by 2016, more than one-fourth of the world’s applications will be available in the cloud, and 85 percent of new software is now being built for cloud.
Engagement in a world of empowered individuals: The phenomena of data and cloud are changing the arena of global business and society. At the same time, proliferating mobile technology and the spread of social business are empowering people with knowledge, enriching them through networks and changing their expectations. This leads to IBM’s third strategic imperative: To enable “systems of engagement” for enterprises…"

IBM has been touting EPS of $20 by end of 2015, and they are facing tough competition by many large (SAP, Intuit) and many small companies engaged in big data and SaaSbusiness. They need someone not only who has presence in the market but also very efficient at executing a plan. Apple has been the best vertically integrated companyby way of its product offerings. With iOS 8 they have done several things that could help deploying iPhones and iPads in enterprises. There are a few key points IT teams look at, while deploying new technology or devices: Security, OS Support, Collaboration and management.

Apple does take security very very seriously. In February this year, they showcased their commitment to security with a white paper,and for me the architecture looked awesome. On the contrary, Android continues to be targeted by sophisticated malwareattacks. Later on, in iOS 8 they doubled down on the security and I am fortunate to come across a fantastic researchby Luis Abreu, a UK based UX and UI designer. There is plenty of stuff and I felt this is what worth mentioning from his report:

"Account Privacy
CloudKit does not give Apps access to the real user’s Apple ID or data from other apps, instead, CloudKit creates a Random User ID on a Per-App basis, and there’s no access to private data outside of your app’s CloudKit Drive Container.”

 

Then comes OS support, and Apple has done a tremendous job by accounting for future software updates. Generally a new generation device gets three further software updates, and that software up-gradation is provided without additional charges to the user. But Apple needs to invest resources for development, deployment and maintenance, which is an outlay for the company. So Apple accounting system is quite fascinating and forward thinking, they announced subscription method of accounting way back in April 2007 Q2 earning call. iOSusers have always enjoyed the latest possible OS updates,thereby latest apps when compared to any other operating systems. In comparison, Android, the major player in consumer market still suffers from fragmentation and enterprise IT may not be interested-intaking such risks.

Not everything is safe, for work!
Not everything is safe, for work!
Software Update Status as of Nov 2013
Software Update Status as of Nov 2013

Even though most analysts, and tech press ignored 64-bitarchitecture as a marketing gimmick, biggest advantagecame in the form of encryptionand decryption efficiencyin iOS devices (iPhone 5s, iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display). Even though Apple has not been best known for helping enterprise ITadoption, they did a remarkable yet an unnoticed job.

iOS 8 and IBM partnership really showcases the workthat went on behind the scenes. Features like Find my iPhone are really understated ones, but Apple continues to advance the feature with some of the unique mechanisms.Even with so much of excitement there is a bit of scepticism from a few corners. Apple and IBM had a few less successful partnerships previously, recent one was Power PC.Unlike this time, all the time, they were competing in the market for some other businesses. IBM now needs someone with whom they can assure their clients about the quality of devices, software updates, etc. For Apple, it is a market in which company lacksdepth. Apple’s iPad business showed no positive growth for two successive quarters. Apple did not announce new product categories as of this writing but there seems to be lots of new strategic partnerships being worked out. Am I predicting the success of this partnership? No, time will tell. But ever since Tim Cook took over as CEO, the company is not a ‘rebellion, take on the world’ types. Instead they behave more matured, they open up to the public wherever possible, and Tim Cook is the guy showcasing the company values.

Microsoft and Office – Need to Stay Relevant

Lots of talk has been going on in since 27th March about Microsoft and one of its most relevant services, MS Office. I have been an active user of Microsoft Office ever since I landed up in a financial research job. I extensively used Office 2003 and 2007, both at local desktop and Citrix environments, for over seven years. I personally use iPad and a Windows 8 Ultrabook outside my corporate job. On my Ultrabook, Office 2013 has been running ever since its launch. I installed the subscription-less Office apps on my iPad moments of after launch. During the launch event, Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella called Office suite as ‘the real productive application’ on mobile devices. As most of us know, the Office suite requires a $99 per annum subscription to create and edit documents on iPad, while it’s completely free on iPhone and Android phones.

Real productivity through Microsoft Office?
Generating high quality reports may not always be achieved through any other software suites but Office. Creating basic graphs, writing an article with a few pictures or creating presentation with a few animations do not constitute “real productivity”. I would like to share my experience with MS Office. PowerPoint is commonly used for marketing presentations and pitchbooks. They need high quality gradients and shading, automated chart updates through Visual Basic, handling slide master and themes, creating multi dimensional diagrams with animations and so on. All the listed features are equally important for a start-up which wants to pitch its products! But a college student may not need those and hence iPad version could help him/her. If Adobe suite is underpowered on a tablet touch screen so is PowerPoint (MS Office itself for that matter).

I personally worked on high end Word documents that were used as brochures and investor reports. A 70 plus page word document with ‘Fields and Custom Properties’, needed regular updates. Index page that had to be dynamically updated. Various tables and charts needed to be periodically updated based on key words for which the data was coming from multiple spreadsheets. Excel to Word VBA was inevitable. Literally every page had different size tables, and mostly they overflowed and got misplaced on different screen dimensions. Every content had to be associated with appropriate properties to keep them tight. After the completion of updated report, the whole document had to be split to two/three page reports ‘based on contents’ through a Visual Basic program. Similarly I worked on multiple two-pagers that had to be updated through VBA and merged into a single document with updated index page.

Of all, Microsoft has provided this world with Excel and I consider that to be one of the most scale-able application suite. We used that to create simple charts to bubble graphs. Excel can handle heavy data, update thousands of formulae, update data from various sources such as web and external databases. I used all of these functions day in and day out for over five years. Pivot table and pivot charts are widely used in big data handling. Excel can collate hundreds of worksheets/workbooks, link to different formulae and showcase just a couple of tabs and all of such activities can be automated through VBA macros. Excel also offers powerful analysis through built-in functions for pro statisticians, solver and trend analysis are couple of awesome functions I can recall (while writing this). In excel, one can build an automation tool that allows to select multiple data sources in the web UI, assign analysis and link it to an Excel template that can in turn give us a final spreadsheet with graphs, relevant data and corresponding calculation in less than a minute’s time! Yeah, that is ‘some productivity’. All the above three software apps give us printing optimisation, and as per my experience Office on Windows has been peerless. If you are running a huge data oriented business, like financial analysis that requires powerful representation, MS Office is worth every penny.

MS Office on iPad
Just after launching the apps, Microsoft CEO tweeted, ‘@satyanadella: Thanks @tim_cook, excited to bring the magic of @Office to iPad customers #cloud4mobile’. Very soon the apps topped the chart on App Store and he tweeted, ‘@satyanadella: looks like it’s a productive Friday for #iPad owners! http://t.co/hjoDxxbp7c‘. My question is, without most of the above mentioned features, what is so magical about Office on iPad? How many households and individuals need the above (and many more) features first up? I cannot imagine myself doing 10% of what I showcased above at home or even if I start a small venture. Cars cannot fly! People who want to do Office oriented work need the desktop, and tablets can only help presenting them on the go. Does that mean tablets cannot produce a thing? Answer is no. Tablets can produce things in a different way. Try a few iOS apps like Roambi Analytics, FactSet, Bloomberg Now, Editorial, iWork, hopTo, Inkpad, Oracle Business Intelligence, Lucid Charts, etc. to get a glimpse of what tablet computing can offer.

The Cloud agenda
App Store may have seen lots of downloads for Office, but in my opinion, it’s just that people wanted to try out. Perosnally, I have a lots of old documents on One Drive and I can simply open and read. I have a handy alternative in the form of hopTo that lets me edit Office docs on various cloud sync such as Dropbox and Box, and also on a PC, but Microsoft offers access to only One Drive files. Microsoft may open up in future but they already lost valuable time. As of this writing, Office on iPad cannot even print. If I already have a desktop, I can create powerful documents and reports through MS Office. For minimum editing option, if you’re asking $99 per year, sorry I simply won’t buy, ever! Note the reality: enterprise customers don’t upgrade often, and hence Windows XP, Office 2003 are still up and running! Even most business owners and enterprises may not shell out so much money just to be able to edit on iPad. Software as a Service is clearly the way to go, but not many would be looking to hook up with Microsoft Office with One Drive alone. Even if Microsoft has to push that, they simply do not afford to stop stand alone application suite sales. Microsoft has too many enemies, especially Google. They cannot get their strategic partnerships right. Check out the quality of Google services on Windows Phone. If cloud service is the agenda, they need to sync well across devices so also across platforms. Microsoft has made the Office on Mobile free with editing capabilities. On the other hand, Apple gives away both iOS and OS X free along with their own iWork and iLife suite free as well. Do I dare say, no one will buy? Not at all! A few startups may buy the subscription because it’s a nice to have an option to edit on iPad. To me, this move from Microsoft indicates a few things: pressure of making itself countable in modern computing era, less iPad bashing ads, and unreliable Surface sales.